Cutting-edge Tech Amid Great Power Showdown: What does it mean?

Cutting-edge Tech Amid Great Power Showdown: What does it mean?

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"A lot of people think international relations is like a game of chess. But it's not a game of chess, where people sit quietly, thinking out their strategy, taking their time between moves. It's more like a game of billiards, with a bunch of balls clustered together."

- Madeleine Albright


The new wave of the second machine age impacts various sectors. Last but not least, these influences extend toward the conduct of international relations. While 4.0 technology enables humans to achieve the previously seemed unachievable, this undoubtedly brings a new complex to the international relations area, particularly regarding the contemporary US-China relations where technology becomes a recurring central theme in their affairs.

China has proven to be an emerging power that equipped themselves with cutting-edge technology, setting a new era of international politics under the second machine age. Last month, a report stated that China expected to deploy robotic submarines equipped with AI to enhance its naval power in the 2020s. A tech will enable the marine robots to complete the task without human intervention.


Meanwhile, it is not a coincidence that China develops its submarine robot. Its counterpart, United States, have steered a project to fortify US Navy fleet with the autonomous unmanned-vessel as reported in 2016. The “Sea Hunter” was said to join the fleet by 2018 according to Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

AI-driven defense technology is not the only front US and China rivals over. Both parties take part in incorporating industry 4.0 component in the decision-making process to boost their strategic capacity.

Recently, a report stated that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China had deployed an artificial intelligence (AI) program to aid its decision-making process. It is said that the system, known as geopolitical environment simulation and prediction platform, has been used to evaluate numerous foreign investment projects in recent years, deal with security issues, and aided China’s diplomatic missions overseas.

The program was compared to the United States Department of State’s 2017-2019 IT Strategic Plan. The statement from its Chief Information Officer implied the use of big data to support diplomats.

With this development, what do these circumstances mean for the international relations and US-China affairs? First, expect the proliferation of cutting-edge technology in the affairs among nations. Well, at least for the countries that can afford it (for now). A research paper published by Chatham House (Cummings, 2017) affirmed the trend of which AI would be the next big thing in the defense industry. It also predicted that it would influence the future of warfare globally. Now, it is likely for the trend to thrive in the decision-making process expanse.

Second, AI will be part of the technological race among great powers in international relations, if not an arms race. A newly coined “artificial intelligence arms race” embedded in an article in The Wall Street Journal poses a new perspective on how great powers such as the US and China in approaching the implementation of AI. The words said that this race had been around since the mid-2010 where AI started to gain momentum. In this case, it is safe to say that the race is inevitable since it has already been taking off.

Lastly, there will be a stronger causal relation between the affairs of nations and technology. With the intensifying technological race, it is likely for the government to invest more in the new technology as part of the industry 4.0.

This is the appropriate time to look back at the sequence during the Cold War era where state-funded science and technology research expanded. This was also the time where nuclear technology grew, proliferated massively and tried to be managed in 1968 through the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapon (NPT).

Moreover, scholars have claimed that the application of AI as part of industry 4.0 could lead to a better praxis of international relations, maybe warfare with less to no human casualties or a foreign policy decision that will be free of passion, pure strategy. However, as AI is a young technology, stakeholders should be cautious to determine the next step. Questions remain whether AI is a substitute or complement for human decision-makers.

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Ratih Melati Eka Manjari

Senior Researcher

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